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Expos Reload announcement in 2019?

Fans wear Montreal Expos uniforms as they watch the Toronto Blue Jays in a pre-season baseball game against the New York Mets Friday, March 28, 2014 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The name of this site was established after I’d attended one of many Spring time Toronto Blue Jays series in Montreal. I couldn’t get over the crowds and their enthusiasm, and obvious love, for baseball regardless of who it was they were going to see.

While the first few series in Montreal were special, however, the one that REALLY seems to have rekindled baseball fever in Montreal included a special name: Guerrero.

You could feel an anxious energy in the Olympic stadium when he was on the field. People pointed, eyes shifted, and everyone seemed focused on one player: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

And then it happened. He rewarded those who paid steep prices for a Spring training game between two non-partisan teams and who couldn’t be bothered to field most of their star players. With the opportunity to end the second game of the series with a walk-off HR, he did just that.

But even with that energy, and the first special baseball moment since the team was taken from the city, three ingredients were missing to bring MLB back to Montreal.

We can say 2 of those 4 items are in place, 2 may be settled shortly.

The ownership group in place in Montreal (details here) would become one of the strongest in all of MLB if (and when) successful in getting a franchise and has political support from all levels of government. So we can scratch (1) and (3) off the list of requirements.

Plans and location for a new stadium are the current focus of Expos ownership group. This was talked about most recently by Mitch Garber (audio here). The timeline provided was a few months, which is interesting considering the timing coincides with Spring training and would set everything up prior to the next MLB series in Montreal, on the 50th anniversary of the Montreal Expos coming into existence, no less.

And that brought about this tweet….

Should that hunt for a new location be successful and finances can indicate to MLB that everything needed to successfully house an MLB franchise in Montreal for the long-term is in place, the franchise becomes THE missing piece. So let’s concentrate on that aspect, shall we?

Montreal Expos: The Franchise

Major League Baseball is a major corporation (a business) which aims to make its ownership groups as much money as possible. The reason for the initial demise of the Montreal Expos can be debated through and through, and we all know about the strikes, but in truth it came down to this: they didn’t make MLB owners enough money to make it worthwhile for healthy ownership to take over the team.

instead, Montreal got Jeffry Loria, who has now had a negative impact on baseball in two cities, after taking advantage of Miami taxpayers (legal proceedings are ongoing for them to recoup part of what was paid to Loria in the sale of the team).

Back to today, we’re left wondering how the Expos will return to existence. Will it be through expansion – the more stable of two options – or will it be through the moving of a franchise?

Tampa Bay Rays

In all honestly, I started covering the Rays when the thought of which franchise would most likely move to Montreal came down to the Tampa Bay Rays. They were an East Coast team, they had a tough lease that seemed to drag down attendance in the area, and  they have ownership with North Eastern ties who was rumoured to have had meetings with people about moving the team to Montreal.

Whether or not those meetings took place, the self-proclaimed two strikes they’ve managed since that time are very notable. Despite earning a win by getting the chance to look elsewhere for a stadium location, they couldn’t come to an agreement for the Ybor site. And despite getting a lot of interest – and credible development plans – from the St-Petersburg group, they don’t seem interested in that one in the least.

TV Coverage area and MLB Income

When I talk to Rays fans about the state of the franchise, I often hear about the TV ratings and contracts being so very high (top half of MLB), and consistent whether the team is competing or not. My word of caution to those who claim this as a strength is this:

What happened to MLB coverage in Quebec and Eastern Canada once the Expos left?

The Toronto Blue Jays inherited it and benefited from increase viewership and fans.

If the Tampa Bay Rays leave the region and leave the State of Florida with only one franchise to cheer for, the Miami Marlins – the same franchise Jeffry Loria just left – will inherit those fans and that TV coverage area.

Cheer for who?

Now, fans in the Tampa area will proclaim that they’ll never cheer for the Marlins, and that may be so for some. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned through the demise of the Montreal Expos, it’s this: the love of baseball is stronger than the love for a franchise.

Sooner or later, whether they decide to cheer for the Expos, the Marlins, or the nearby Atlanta Braves, most Tampa area fans will return to MLB.

So when I’m asked why it would make sense for the Rays to move to Montreal considering the sizeable TV coverage area, I say it would likely be absorbed by others, such as the Miami Marlins. So that financial aspect is a break-even for MLB and it’s owners.

By moving the team to Montreal, MLB would be taking some market share away from the Toronto Blue Jays in Canada. Portions of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine may also decide to return to cheer on the Expos as well, as that market had been a strong one for the team.

Expansion: Vegas AND Portland (or others)

The impact in moving the Rays to Montreal would be felt through MLB. Not only would the league gain an incredibly stable and influential ownership group, but it would also set the stage for expansion to occur in two cities that don’t have the means to take on a franchise tomorrow due to lack of stadium being in place.

When we look at MLB’s most struggling franchise after the Rays, the Oakland Athletics, we get the sense that they’ll figure it out. Their owner is dedicated to funding a new stadium build mostly using his own finances, and their attendance actually rose when they had a successful season in 2018 – unlike the Rays who saw attendance dip despite a 90 win season.

Oakland is also set to lose the Raiders to Las Vegas and are now completely focused on keeping their last big 4 professional franchise around – so political support should be available to them. And they recently set out their plans to build a new stadium at the Howard Terminal.

Portland has already made news with new stadium plans,

While on the Vegas side of things, the plans are less solid and mostly based on rumours,

Truth be told, MLB will go through the expansion bidding process and many others will also likely make strong bids. From San Antonio to Charlotte, and from Mexico City to Vancouver, there are plenty of areas where MLB could thrive through expansion.

The expansion process, however, would push back Montreal’s return to MLB by a significant amount of time due to this process.

Expos Reload in 2019?

With all of these items in mind, and as we close out 2018, it’s evident that momentum is building in the right direction for an Expos return. Could it come as early as 2019?

Yes, that’s completely possible. Not in terms of having a franchise play all of its games in Montreal, but. in terms of having a franchise assigned to the city for 2020.

Depending on how MLB views the situation in Tampa and how quickly Stu Sternberg is willing to move things along, a chance could be as fast as announced in 2019, and acted upon in 2020. We also can’t overlook the fact that Sternberg himself could retain a small portion of ownership stake in the franchise should they move to Montreal. Nowhere does it state that a move entails foregoing all ownership stakes.

In all likeliness, stakes in the lands around the Tropicana Field site would be used as leverage to move the team with as little financial burden as possible on the new ownership group.

Nobody is going to put any sort of timeline on a return of the Expos playing at the Olympic stadium yet. But if pressed, I’d say there’s a better than 50/50 chance that there will be an announcement made in 2019 that tells us when and how the Expos will be reloaded.

It just makes too much business sense for MLB and its owners. Bring in strong ownership, benefit from expansion fees, get better coverage across North America while returning a franchise with deep MLB history roots.

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